Is Ukraine safe for refugees and asylum seekers?


Radio Freedom had a talk with Nataliya Naumenko, director of Refugee Department and Mridula Gosh, the head of board of Eastern European Institution of Development about problems connected with refugees in Ukraine. 
– Some weeks ago information appeared loudly making the round of the press pages and foreign Mass Media about the existing problem in Ukraine concerning the holding of refugees from Somalia in Ukraine. They went on hunger strike.

Just now 10 years passed since Ukraine joined the UNO Convention. It is written in the Law “About refugees and persons in need of complementary or temporary protection”.

Mrs. Naumenko, who is refugee? 
Nataliya Naumenko (N.N.): I will start from that we really have a small anniversary as 10 years ago Ukraine joined UNO Convention on refugee status. But it started to build the institute of asylum much earlier. It began in 1993 when the first Law of Ukraine about refugees was adopted. And now, properly, we will return to the definition – who a refugee is. In accordance with UNO Convention about refugee status as well as it is defined by our active legislation, refugee is a person, who is not a citizen of Ukraine and in a result of grounded fears to become a victim of pursuit as to race signs, religion, nationality, citizenship, belonging to certain social group or certain political beliefs stays beyond the country of his/her origin or does not wish to enjoy this protection because of such fears or not having citizenship and staying beyond the country of his/her previous permanent residence cannot or does not wish to return to it in the results of mentioned fears.


That is, I such a way, we have 5 classic signs when person cannot get refugee status. It is pursuit in the country of origin as to nationality, race, belonging to certain social group pr political beliefs.
How many refugees are now in Ukraine?
N.N.: So far, there are 2 345 officially registered persons from 43 countries. During the period of asylum existence in Ukraine we have considered 20 thousand applications and recognized more than 5 thousand refugees. Some of them have already naturalized in Ukraine.
– You mean, they got citizenship?

N.N.: Yes.

How many? What is percentage? 
N.N.: 5-7% have already received citizenship of Ukraine

How many are of those persons who got refugees status try in some way to cross the border of Ukraine and depart to the West? 

N.N.: There is no such official statistics. Perhaps, the biggest problem we have is concerning those persons who are in the procedure of Refugee Status Determination. Because there are really many persons, who are detained by security bodies of state border of Ukraine, they are detained with documents certifying their address for protection in Ukraine and particularly during their attempt to cross the state border to EU.
How many persons are now waiting for consideration of their applications? 

N.N.: About 1,5 thousand persons if we take court cases as well, because a person is also regarded to be in the procedure.

That is, they do not pretend to departure to the West, they stay here rather long periodWhere do they stay while they are waiting for their case consideration? In refuges? Where?  

N.N.: For all that, we accept different categories of the foreigners. It depend how they get into the procedure of Refugee Status Determination. If a person himself/herself directly applies to Migration Service of Ukraine to get such a status, so in such a case having grounds he/she is directed to Temporary Holding Facility for refugees.

Unfortunately, there are two centers in Ukraine – in Transcarpathian and Odessa regions. We are able to place 330 persons simultaneously. The advantage is given to families with little children, minors or vulnerable categories. The rest solve the problem on residence themselves.

– Mrs. Mridulo, you have been working in UNO representation for a long time and were directly connected with these problems. 

Mridul Gosh (M.G.): I would not say it directly. I have not worked in UNHCR, but since the fist period, in the year 1994, when the question was raised as to joining the Convention, when Mr. Djomin was deputy head of Supreme Council, so then I had some relation to it.

And since 1996 we constantly elaborated the piece of this issue because it was very important for the imagination of generally human development in Ukraine. Besides, we have to realize that successful for refugees integration gives a great push in the development of democracy of society as well as open society.

And their successful integration can even be a strong positive for Ukraine as we know that great people were refugees before. There were also Albert Einstein as well as George Soros among them. And many Ukrainian migrants, who were in Ukraine or Canada, lived for a certain period of time having refugee documents.

Mrs. Mridulo, how situation has changed in Ukraine since 1996 till nowadays? Because Ukraine is always abused. 

It would be better to criticize something. If nothing happens so nobody can criticize it. There are problems in social integration.

M.G: Truly to say, I am sure that there is a certain progress. I cannot say that everything is bad because many people worked upon and great number of people solved well those problems, which are in the sense of refugees’ integration.

First, it is joining the Convention, adoption of Law about refugees. These are great steps. There are budget obligations to each law and creation of separate body. These are also not small steps. We cannot say that everything here is empty. It is institutional side – the certain development is present. It can be improved and it can be criticized.

And from other side, there is a social integration. Yes, there are some problems here. I know many refugees that got citizenship and work successfully. But I know their pain, their children suffer. These are general problems of toleration, general problems of tolerance.

We have a listener.

Listener (translation): Why our country is like sieve for migrants? There are a lot of them here. And then, when they cross our borders to Western Europe, so we asked questions – we signed the charter that they have right to return migrants here and we, so to say, have to serve them here, etc.

And the second question is – how is it happened that Israelites secret service kidnapped a refugee who got refugee status from Kharkov? What is it? How could the government allow to happen it?.

N.N.: Concerning the way persons get to Ukraine and why we accept persons that subjected to the order of readmission from EU countries – probably the problem of refugees is a complicated issue for each country. By signing up the UNO Convention about refugee status, Ukraine stated that it assumes the burden together with other countries as to access to procedure of persons seeking asylum, their integration, solution of long-term issues, etc.

So, it is not quite objectively to say that we are a “sieve” or something else for EU countries.

As to your question about the kidnapping of refugee – I will not tell his name, but everybody knows him, and it is also the question of today’s talk. I can only stress on the fact that this person was not even in the procedure of Refugee Status Determination. Therefore, speaking about some violation of the rights on the part of Ukrainian government or Ukraine as to non-access of this person to the procedure is a little bit irrelevant and incorrect.

M.G.: Very often undocumented persons, i.e. refugees, getting to the border seek for refuge (asylum) and at that moment they are very vulnerable person.

I do not agree with the concept “sieve” because nowadays, in the informational age, theoretically all borders are open. And these are very old concepts as at the present moment the movement of stocks, money, people will be freer in future. If it is not happened so development of each country will brake.  Experience of developed countries shows this example clearly.

The other thing, that there is a crisis in the country and there are a lot of temptations to accuse foreign people and foreign forces. And Mass Media also participates in it considerably.

On the other hand, there are political powers. I would like to differentiate these two categories. Refugees, asylum seekers – are the principle of non-refoulement with certain procedures. Thus, it should be more told about to society by the state authorities. Refugees will not tell about themselves.

– Properly speaking, our today’s talk is to get more information. 

M.G.: And then, probably the treatment at the borders of Ukraine will be more human. I can tell about this generally.

We communicate with Security bodies of State Border each time they detain a person and the border, who wish to get asylum and ask them to inform Migration Service on this point.
N.N.: Probably I will comment on it.

We are really in close communication with State Border Service of Ukraine. Because we wish those persons, appearing at the border and wanting to get asylum, to have really this opportunity, thus, it is necessary that Migration Service to be informed at once. We came and interviewed these persons and in such a way provided those persons with protection, who in the need of it.

– By the way, what is the percentage of those persons who wish to get refugee status in reality crossing the border legally and illegally?
N.N.: About 70% cross the border illegally. This is general statistics not only of Ukraine, but in the whole world. it is a practice that refugees or asylum seekers cross the border illegally.

– We have one more listener.

Listener: 1.Do you know if Russia has joined this Convention?

                2. Ex-premier of England said that nation, which will unite with different race does not have future.

               3. There are opinions that Somali children flee alone. Is it a preparation to the occupy of Ukraine?

The problem of children seeking asylum. These are conditionally children. These are teenagers of the age 16-18 years old. The exact procedure on evaluation of their age does not exist.

N.N.: The answer to the first question – as far as I know Russia is the participant member of this Convention. In Ukraine as well as in Russian Federation there is the institute of asylum that is engaged in accept and submission of applications on recognition as a refugees. There are other forms of protection.

2. I do not think that here we can make comments on the statements of English authorities. Thus, it can be the subject of our next discussion.

3. Concerning Somali children, so you know that it is rather painful problem for Ukraine – the problem of children seeking asylum, because, as a rule, these are conditionally children. It is an age limit, these are teenagers of 16-18 years old. There is no exact procedure on age evaluation.

Indeed, during the last years the number of persons declaring that they are under age persons seeking asylum has increased. And now we try to elaborate the mechanism in order to work with such a category of refugees – asylum seekers.

– As we have recollected about Somali children, so, we can have a talk about the situation happened in Zhuravychi in Volyn Temporary Holding Facility for refugees and stateless persons.


Mass Media has reported that there refugees went on hunger strike because they were treated badly.

What happened there?

The citizens of Somalia (since December 25 the term of detention increased from 6 to 12 months) started to adduce demands to shorten the term of their detention to 6 months. There were no legal grounds for such actions.
N.N.: In reality the situation in Volyn Temporary Holding Facility got rather wide publicity. I visited the centre repeatedly in order to clear up the matter and to remove tension existed there.

Coming back to the moment from what all it started – persons were detained for attempt to cross illegally the state border of Ukraine to the side of EU by the bodies of State Border Service or were detained by the bodies of Interior for illegal stay inside Ukraine. These persons were called to responsibility. Concerning each person separately there is decision or resolution of the court about their placement to such an establishment, namely to this facility.

When citizens named themselves the citizens of Somalia they were delivered to THF and when they learned about the change of the legislation about legal status of foreigners and stateless persons (and since December 25, 2011 we have principally new legislation in this field and the term of detention has increased from 6 to 12 months), so they, certainly, started to display a certain displeasure.


They started to communicate in a phone regimen with human rights activists, with persons who realized their transportation and get from them different consultation adducing demands to administration of TAC in order it addresses to the court and shorts their term of detention to 6 months. But administration of TAC does not have such legal grounds.

As to use of physical force or violent actions to these persons, so I want to attract the attention of the listeners that the guards of TAC are completely civil, there are no any special means with the help of which they can force persons kept there to certain actions. Thus, these statements are completely unreasonable.

– You have already made some comments in Mass Media including “Radio Freedom” about that the hunger strike was not confirmed.   

We had a talk with human rights activist Dmytro Groisman, who as a member of President Commission on prevention of tortures visited Zhuravychi on February 1. After the visit he gave us the interview. I propose you to listen to it.

Dmytro Groisman: Just on January 30, a group of police special mission unit (PSMU) “Berkut” in Volyn region, exerted pressure on detained persons there. Some persons were beaten absolutely groundlessly, illegally. And we hope that Prosecutor’s office will check these facts, which are laid out in our report, and it will react in accordance with the requirements of Criminal-Commitment Code of Ukraine.

There was a certain conflict situation. We had a talk with civil staff of the centre. These talks were recorded on the Dictaphone and officially written down in the course of commission’s work. The staff is completely untrained, it does not know how to work with this contingent.

When we asked about the purpose of PSMU’s “Berkut” arrival they just said us on the Dictaphone: in order to demonstrate the power of Ukrainian government.
If so the governmental power is demonstrated and in reality, I suppose that in such a way they intended to assist in stopping the hunger strike, which is continued by some persons for a durable time, thus it results into nothing except image loses for such country.
N.N.: Actually, I was also with Dmitriy Groisman in the centre on February 1. Thus, we had also an opportunity to communicate with citizens naming themselves Somalis, as well as administration of the centre and guards.

As for commitment of PSMU “Berkut”, so this action really took place. Only after Somali citizens had very aggressive behavior, when windows and telephones for public use were broken. When there was rather great aggression, so, certainly the guards having no special means reacted quickly upon it and called PSMU “Berkut” from Lutsk.
Concerning the violent actions as to person kept there, so it is not quite reliable information. Because “Berkut” just took these persons to their rooms. To no detainee violent actions or means of physical influence were used.

During our visit and communication with Somali citizen next day, we did not receive any complaints as to actions of administration of the centre as well as of the guards and “Berkut”, except they were a little bit frightened.

Really, the guards of the centre – they are absolutely new contingent, new persons…

Indeed new staff is untrained. 

I know that as if German and Polish trainers have to come due to help of European Commission. How does it corresponds to the fact?  
N.N: The thing is that until December 2011 the guards of the centre were officers of Bodies of Interior. And in December 2011 we took the centre completely to the sphere of competence of State Migration Service. Therefore, the most part of the guards has changed.

Telling that they are untrained also does not corresponds the reality, because there were the plans of trainings elaborated and those persons know with whom they work and how they must behave, etc.

Certainly, now we will examine the programs and accentuate the attention namely on psychological aspect, how must we react upon the aggression from those who are hold in the centre, how must we lift the conflicts. All this is in perspective for the present year.
We have a question from social network “Facebook”. “What are the mechanisms of protection must be introduced for the guarantees of refugees’ safety?». 

M.G: Still I suppose that members of the top brass are needed for sure as well as social services, law enforcement agents and more human methods. Aggression can be provoked very quickly.
I cannot tell the formula. But you know, that psychological consultations are very important in order persons knowing languages work with migrants who already integrated in Ukraine during 20 years. We need to look for those refugees who already became the citizens of Ukraine and take them into service. That is why they do not see themselves.

When they see completely different people that treat them with certain ethnic profiling so such a “wall” appears in result. Thus, they are not treated so. They need to be heard and understand.

Finally, is Ukraine a safe country for refugees and asylum seekers?
N.N.: I think that Ukraine realizes the fact that it has taken certain obligations and must create certain conditions. Now it has to be done in the legislation sphere and there are already some steps done in practical sphere. We are one of post soviet countries that do not have any conflict on ethnic grounds. Ukrainians treat persons of other race, other nationality tolerantly enough. This country is generally safe for migrants.  
– What do you think Mrs. Mridulo on this point? 

M.G.: I can say that institutional mechanisms should be improved. On social side, I would say that the temperature of social body depends much on racism, anti-Semiteism, xenophobia.